Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > March 2022

"Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them."

As of March 1, 2022, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing, it is apparent that we need a new mind-set.

It is shocking that such an event would occur in the modern world, that is the top story being reported in the news services of many nations today.

I have been tracking the causes of this conflict as they unfolded over the last 10 years. Thanks to Internet, it is possible to get news from many sources, including news services from Russia and Ukraine plus other news agencies who have international reporting including BBC, CBC, CNN, etc. These have reported events leading to this situation, from the Orange Revolution, to the Maiden, to the break-away of Crimea, and the rebellion in East Ukraine that has cost an estimate 14,000 lives. All of that was a lead up to the current crisis.

I find that many of the sources report the same events, but they describe the causes and place blame differently. If we were watching an election, we would be skeptical of each politician's conflicting claims, but oddly when people watch the news from their own nations news services, they accept it all as correct without checking.

For example, when Crimea, which is a penisula off the south end of Ukraine, became a part of Russia in 2014, it has been described in various ways including, "Russia invaded Crimea," "Russia Annexed Crimea," "Crimea joined Russia," and "Crimea re-joined Russia." But which is it? Because of the situation today, one might assume it is the first of those, and some journalists will report it that way because they never bothered to check what really happened.

One might also assume that there is some longstanding ethnic hatred between Russians and Ukrainians, but that isn't true either. I live in Canada, and when my children were little they attended a Ukrainian language pre-school here. On my wife's side of my family there are relatives and friends who speak Russian and Ukrainian, and also that was true at the pre-school. Everyone got along fabulously. It was wonderful to see the little children playing together, learning the alphabet, singing songs and doing line dances in traditional costumes. They were so cute!

So, when I see news of what's happening in Ukraine right now, it is clear to me that it doesn't have to be that way. How could it happen?

For an answer, I will point out the old phrase that "truth is the first casualty of war." But I'll go further. Truth is already a casualty before the war begins.

Adolph Hitler's right-hand man, Hermann Goering, explained how it works:

"Naturally, the common people don't want war, neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany."

"That is understood. But the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."

"It works the same way in any country."

The problem is that leaders often have a different goal from their citizens. World history is filled with kings and generals fighting over territory, and using subterfuge and strategy. It is a mind-set in which people are pawns in a game of chess, expendable. And truth is expendable along with it.

You can see that in the current conflict. President Putin of Russia makes a public broadcast telling his citizens that they must defend themselves in case Ukraine might join NATO, and that Ukraine is run by Nazi dictators. Well, Ukrainians most certainly want to join NATO now; he has made sure of it.

It would seem that the world is doomed, because sooner or later someone's going to be pushed to the wall in one of these conflicts, and pull the nuclear Armageddon trigger.

As Einstein pointed out, we need a new way of thinking. So what is it?

The first part of the "new way of thinking" is to understand that human beings have a tribal instinct that doesn't serve them well. It is part of our heritage, evolved from wild carnivores. Solitary animals will fight over territory, but they generally don't kill others of the same species--because they can't. They are too closely matched, and even if they form groups, like a pack of wolves, it is a limited size. But long ago humans overcame those group size limits, enabling a larger group to prey on a smaller one, to the point of killing.

In order for large groups to have coordinated action, hierarchal decision making was invented. Also, early humans developed empathy within family groups and extended family--their tribe. This solidarity was necessary so that the group wouldn't disintegrate into squabbles, making it an easy target for another tribe. However, as the groups became bigger, the leaders didn't necessarily have much contact or empathy for those at the bottom of the hierarchy. The citizens are the pawns.

Leaders know that when times are bad in their own country, they can pull the people together with an excuse for war. Those who remember long ago when Argentina was ruled by a milatary dictatorship, they undertook a war against an insignificant little rock called the Falkland Islands. At first there were big parades of support in Argentina. However, the islanders chose not to be taken over by Argentina. Britain came to their aid, the Argentina military lost, and soon their dictators had no support. After a while, democracy came to Argentina.

That event demonstrates a second flaw in the evolutionary heritage of humans: team spirit. People will cheer for their local team, even though their team is made of professional players recruited from wherever, just like the other team! However, sports is actually a good substitute for our warlike tendencies, because people don't kill each other in sports. The recent 2022 Olympics was a wonderful way for young people to compete, not just as an alternative source of excitement, but to meet others from around the world and see that they are human too--just like them.

The emergence of "team spirit", aka "nationalism" has been a tool used in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. People have been manipulated into this situation. Worse, as it unfolds, their prejudices have hardened. The fighting that started in the Donbas region of Ukraine 8 years ago started as demonstrations related to a trade deal. The country was torn between a trade deal with Russia and one with the EU, and not permitted to be friends with both sides at once. Due to corruption and lack of faith in democracy, the demonstrations turned to protests in Kiev, sudden political changes, and then to insurrection in the Donbas region.

Suppose you could offer the Donbas rebels the deal they wanted to its fullest extent for their region, that would have brought them much delight at the time. Would they accept it now and put down their guns? Of course not. Now it is only complete victory that would not dishonor their fallen comrades. On both sides.

There were peace treaties, but the conflict continued. One or both sides did not keep their promises. It's one of the simplest, most well known matters of ethics known for a long time--being honest and keeping your word. But when it comes to world politics, strategy involves controlling what people believe through the use of half-truths, and tricking someone to believe that a promise will be fulfilled. It's a strategy that brings ruin eventually, every time.

For the conflict in progress, I have no solution. It is like a huge forest fire that is burning--very hard to put out. It is also too easy for one side to take a role of aggressor when they have a power mismatch. Sometimes one needs to keep the combatants apart, and when that's not possible one can try other strategies, like the sanctions that many nations are applying now. It is never too late to stop fighting; but very sad that so many are dead already.

The most important thing we can learn from this, is how to prevent it from happening again.

If there is a lesson to be learned about a "new way of thinking" I think the following points stand out:

This new way of thinking cannot be brought about by force, but only by education. We do in fact have many nations that are peaceful and prosperous, where the leaders mostly serve the public rather than vice versa. More than ever we have students who travel around the world to learn from universities in other places, or who do it online. There is an incredible opportunity for the new thinking to disseminate gradually over the world. There can be a new way of thinking, and a new kind of universal ethics that doesn't apply only to one's tribe.

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